So, what’s it like going on Intrepid Travel’s Peru Women’s Expedition?
Well, the first words that come to mind are empowering, challenging, breathtaking, soul-fulfilling, and absolutely joyful. Focusing on women-founded businesses and the gender equality work happening on the ground around the country, the Peru Women’s Expedition is intentionally designed to uplift and empower women founders and guides and connect travelers with women-run and owned businesses across Peru. If you know anything about Wanderful, you know that we prioritize intentional travel and uplifting underrepresented communities and the voices of women at any opportunity we can — so partnering with Intrepid to experience this newly relaunched Women’s Expedition was a no-brainer.
We had the privilege of joining Intrepid for this adventure alongside some amazing creators (@toniahope_, @muslimtravelgirl, @sandymakessense, @racheloffduty, and @brownpeoplecamping) and spent eight days together with our all-women guide team across Lima, Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu. Keep reading to find out what made this trip so empowering, challenging, breathtaking, soul-fulfilling, and absolutely joyful from our perspective.
Why We Chose to Travel With Intrepid
So, why choose to travel to Peru with Intrepid? Named one of the 10 visionary companies that are changing the way we travel by AFAR in their 2022 Travel Vanguard issue, Intrepid Travel is creating positive change through the joy of travel. They are the world’s largest travel B Corp, have been carbon neutral since 2010, and have contributed over $8 million USD to over 130 community organizations since 2002 through their not-for-profit, the Intrepid Foundation. Sustainability and engaging ethically with both people and the planet are their core values, so if you are looking to travel responsibly with maximum positive impact and minimal harm without the guesswork, consider a trip with Intrepid.
Meet Intrepid’s Women Guides in Peru
One of the most special parts of traveling to Peru with Intrepid Travel was being led by an all-women team of guides. From city guides to trekking guides, to even our porter on the Inca Trail hike — all of our guides were women!
Our main trip leader, Tina, is one of Peru’s first women trekking guides and broke into the industry when it was still very much dominated by men. She’s very much a trailblazer and now leads all-women group trips across Peru. Paola, who was our city guide in Lima, took us around the city to teach us about the history and many architectural influences in Lima. Paula, another guide in Lima, brought us on a food tour to try the diverse and cultural mixing pot of foods in Lima — more on that later!
Valentina is one of Intrepid’s first-ever women porters. She transported our entire group’s lunches during our one-day Inca Trail hike. Portering has long been a male-dominated career in Peru, but Valentina and others are challenging gender stereotypes in the region and are taking on portering as a serious career move to be able to make a stable income and provide for their families. Learn more about Valentina and how she’s building a brighter future for travel.
Cinthia and Rosa were our Inca Trail trekking guides and safely and successfully navigated us all the way to the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu! Cinthia also led us through Machu Picchu to teach us the history, architecture, and significance of this World Wonder.
The Peru Women’s Expedition Itinerary Highlights
Lima was the gateway to our experience in Peru, and it did not disappoint!
- Staying at Antigua Miraflores hotel — This boutique is located in Miraflores, one of Lima’s most beautiful neighborhoods, and is within walking distance of some of Lima’s best restaurants and bars. It served as the perfect home base to experience vibrant Miraflores.
- Dinner at La Huaca Pucllana Restaurant — This is one of the top restaurants in Lima and is set overlooking pre-Incan ruins that once served as an important ceremonial center many centuries ago. Here we tried fresh ceviche, lomo saltado, pisco sours, and other Peruvian favorites. It was truly the definition of dinner with a view!
- Biking tour along the beautiful Lima coastline — Starting at our hotel in Miraflores, we biked all along Lima Bay to Chorrillos to see the famous view of Lima’s fishing boats. We rode along the Malecón Cisneros and visited the Romantic Love Park of Miraflores, inspired by Gaudi and featuring the famous sculpture, “El Beso,” made by Peruvian artist Victor Delfín. We also stopped in Barranco, Lima’s most bohemian neighborhood, home to many of Peru’s leading artists, musicians, designers, and photographers. We of course had to stop and take a group photo in front of the “MUJERES” mural (pictured above). Cycling proved to be such a fun and safe way to see Lima.
- Architectural walking tour through Lima center — Lima’s historical city center is full of ornate colonial mansions, palaces, and churches and is the perfect place to see historic and modern Lima play out side by side. Our guide, Paola, pointed out all of the different types of architecture in Lima from French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese, to Islamic influences.
- Street food tour — From Plaza Mayor, we headed out to try lots of different street foods from several different sections of Lima. Our guide, Paula, first took us to try Peruvian-style churros which were filled with manjar blanco (similar to dulce de leche or arequipe). We then headed to Lima’s Chinatown to try out some Chifa favorites like bao buns filled with sweet black bean paste, and spring rolls. Chifa is a fusion of Peruvian and Chinese cuisines, brought to Peru by East Asian immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today you can see their major influence on the unique food scene in Lima and across Peru! From here we continued to Alameda Chabuca Granda park, home to food stalls run by Lima’s local women – many of which are award-winning!
After a wonderful and educational time in Lima, we boarded a flight and headed to Cusco for the next part of our trip. At 3,420 meters high, Cusco is one of the world’s most elevated cities and is considered the historic heartland and former capital of the Inca Empire.
- Lunch at Mama Seledonia — Our first stop in Cusco was at Mama Seledonia, a restaurant that helps and supports young single mothers and teenagers in rural areas with a talent and passion for cooking. We had the opportunity to personally meet Mrs. Seledonia and hear from her firsthand how important it is for her to run this business and support young single mothers. Her energy was so warm and inviting, and she got super vulnerable with us, telling us stories about her life, her family, and her struggles. Aside from feeling so connected to Mama Seledonia and her story, we were also blown away by her delicious fresh and healthy food.
- Walking tour around the center of Cusco — After a delicious lunch, Tina took us on a walking tour through the historic center of Cusco where we wandered cobblestone streets and admired the interesting mix of Inca and Spanish cultures and architecture. We ventured up to Sapantiana aqueduct and then to Plaza San Blas for beautiful views of the sunset over this gorgeous, historic city.
- A visit to Xapiri Ground — This part art gallery, part cafe, and part handicraft store is a nonprofit organization dedicated to grassroots work with the Indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest. They empower Indigenous communities to maintain their cultural traditions through collaborative art installations and fair-trade practices focusing on art, culture, and a sustainable economy. Not only was the art beautiful, but the coffee and cacao drinks were delicious and served in handmade ceramics. This was a very special stop indeed!
- Dinner at Nuna Raymi — We ended our evening at this sustainable restaurant whose philosophy is to support and work with local producers and organic products. We met Rocio, the owner of Nuna Raymi, and got to hear more about her story and how she started this business. She’s at the forefront of empowering local producers and women entrepreneurs of the region by highlighting its special and diverse ingredients. They showcase all of their organic produce from local growers at the entrance of the restaurant so patrons can see what the ingredients are and where they come from. It was such a pleasure to meet her and learn about the important work she’s doing. Not only did we love supporting the business, but the tasty and delicious food also left us feeling fueled up for our trek the next morning.
- Meeting Maritza Chacacanta, Intrepid’s Deputy Manager of the Trekking Department, in Peru — Once a guide, Maritza worked her way up to managing Intrepid’s entire trekking department in Peru. She was at the forefront of getting the Inca Trail reopened after the COVID lockdown to encourage tourism back in the region to help bring jobs back and stimulate the economy for her beloved community. She’s absolutely incredible and is doing amazing things for women (and travel) in the region. Fun fact — she has hiked the Inca Trail over 500 times!!! Maritza wasn’t able to join us on the Inca Trail, but we were so grateful we got to meet her and hear her story. More on Maritza — she’s also one of the country’s loudest voices in sustainability.
- Visiting Sacsayhuaman — Before leaving Cusco for the next leg of the trip, we made a very important stop at the Inca Ceremonial Center of Sacsayhuaman. It is said that it took over 10,000 workers and 50 years to build it. Although the exact origin of the temple of Sacsayhuaman is still unknown today, Tina pointed out many key factors that show the significance of the complex. The first is the gigantic boulders that fit together with perfect precision and the second is the fact that these boulders and structures were built and fit together without the use of mortar (a signature Inca technique!). It’s definitely a place that will blow your mind.
The Sacred Valley Highlights
To get from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, we took a road trip through the Sacred Valley. The Sacred Valley was a very special and important place for the Incas due to its fertile farmland and the ability to grow enough crops for the region. The Incas sculpted the mountains with a sophisticated system of terraces and irrigation channels that are still used today!
- Visiting the weavers of Manos de la Comunidad — We had the opportunity to visit Manos de la Comunidad (Hands of the Community) which is a co-op that only sells handmade, naturally dyed, and ethically and humanely sourced materials to make all of their clothing and accessories. We learned that the artisans don’t follow any sort of pattern, they create straight from their imagination. Talk about true artistry!
- Painting pottery in the Sacred Valley — Our next stop in the Sacred Valley was Agroturismo Chichubamba, a ceramics shop where you can hand paint pre-made pottery. We got to meet the owner, Mrs. Alcione Torres, and hear her story about how she’s prioritizing employment opportunities for women in the region. She told us that women don’t have a lot of job opportunities in this region, so she created this business so that she and other women of Chichubamba can support their families. We not only got to support a small, woman-owned business, but got to take home a handmade souvenir as well!
- Trying Chica at a local Urubamba bar — Afterwards, we even stopped at a local Urubamba bar for some chica. Chica is a fermented alcoholic beverage popular in the Andes and Amazonia regions. It’s essentially corn beer. We would have never had the opportunity to experience this had it not been for our guide Tina, so this was such a unique and unforgettable stop on our trip.
Machu Picchu & The Inca Trail Highlights:
- Riding the PeruRail train — Since we didn’t do the full Inca Trail hike, we got the opportunity to ride the PeruRail train from Ollantaytambo station to the Kilometer 104 trail where we started the trek. The Vistadome train offers beautiful views of the surrounding valley on the way toward Machu Picchu and is definitely a very unique experience.
- Hiking the Baby Inca Trail with a BADASS group of women — The absolute highlight of this entire trip was hiking the Baby Inca trail with an all-women group. From the guides to the porter, to the travelers, it was a 100% women-only group and that felt super special to us. We encouraged each other, helped each other in challenging moments and completed this hike together! The Baby Inca Trail is the one-day trekking option — it’s 13km and takes anywhere from five to eight hours to finish.
- Experiencing a Quechua ritual — Before the hike officially kicked off, we stopped at Chachabamba, an archeological site left behind by the Incas. Here one of our trekking guides, Rosa, handed out coca leaves as an offering for Pacha Mama (Mother Earth). Cinthia taught us that in her culture, the descendants of the Incas (present-day Quechua people of the Andes) honor Pacha Mama through this special ritual. During the ritual, we all took a moment to connect with nature and give our gratitude for allowing us to be on this sacred land. We then blew on the three coca leaves to send that wish out into nature for Pacha Mama to hear us.
- Passing Wiñaywayna on our way to Machu Picchu — After four hours of hiking, we reached the archaeological complex of Wiñaywayna. These gorgeous Inca ruins are carved into the mountainside and offer magnificent views of the Urubamba River.
- Reaching The Sun Gate — After a full day of hiking, we finally made it to Inti Punku (the Sun Gate). This is the first viewpoint of Machu Picchu after completing the Inca Trail. Reaching The Sun Gate is your sign that you’ve MADE IT! There were definitely tears of joy and gratitude shed when we got here and offered a unique moment of bonding for our group.
- Taking a guided tour through Machu Picchu — Because we arrived so late after our day of trekking, we headed back to Machu Picchu the following morning in order to get a full guided tour from Cinthia. We spent about two hours walking through this world-famous Wonder of the World and barely scratched the surface. It’s made up of more than 150 buildings ranging from baths and houses to temples and sanctuaries. Although archeologists believe that Machu Picchu served as a royal estate for Inca emperors and nobles, its exact use remains a mystery even to this day. A highlight was definitely learning about this special place from an all-women team of guides.
- Enjoying one final dinner as a group at MAP Café — For our final dinner, we headed to MAP Café restaurant, located in the yard of the Pre-Columbian Art Museum of Cusco. The restaurant offers fine dining Peruvian cuisine and was the perfect place to end such an incredible trip with incredible women.
We can’t thank Intrepid, our guides, and the group of creators that joined us on this experience enough. The level of women empowerment felt on the Peru Women’s Expedition was truly something special, and something we will never forget. There’s nothing quite like traveling with a group of curious, INTREPID women to learn and adventure with, and we’re so grateful we got to experience this with them all!